Solar panel technology is rapidly advancing every year, and new developments like flexible solar panels are constantly evolving. Compared to conventional solar panels, flexible solar panels typically have a lightweight design, often serve as battery chargers for electronic devices, and can be used independently from the electric grid. If you’re interested in installing flexible solar panels to easily produce solar energy on the go, read on to learn what they are, view our flexible solar panel buyer’s guide, and understand how they compare to standard solar systems.
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- Flexible solar panels are less efficient than rigid panels, but have a wider variety of applications due to their flexibility and thin size (typically 200 micrometers).
- Recently, organic silicon cells have been used to make flexible solar panels.
- Flexible solar panels are ideal for portable solar applications given their light weight.
- Flexible solar panels typically have an efficiency rating between seven and 15 percent.
- Use the EnergySage Marketplace to learn more about your solar options!
What’s in this article?
- Best flexible solar panels
- What are flexible solar panels?
- Thin film solar panels
- Pros and cons of flexible solar panels
- Should you install flexible solar panels?
- Frequently asked questions about flexible solar panels
Buyer’s guide: best flexible solar panels
There are very few (if any) solar installers who offer flexible panels as part of a rooftop or ground-mounted system. However, you can buy flexible solar products and semi-flexible solar panels online in small sizes for one-off solar projects, such as an RV solar setup. Here are some of the top options available to buy if you’re interested in using flexible solar panels.
Flexible solar panels for sale
|Renology 175 Watt Flexible Solar Panel||$290||17.3%||248 degrees||6.2 pounds||Amazon|
|WindyNation 100 Watt Flexible Solar Panel||$129||Not available||30 degrees||4 pounds||Amazon|
|SunPower 100 Watt Flexible Solar Panel||$160||18.35%||30 degrees||4.4 pounds||Amazon|
|TP-solar 50 Watt Flexible Solar Panel||$80||Not available||30 degrees||3.97 pounds||Amazon|
|Winnewsun 100 Watt Bifacial Flexible Solar Panel||$146||22%||Not available||4 pounds||Amazon|
Renology 175 Watt 12 Volt Flexible Monocrystalline Solar Panel
This 6.2-pound solar panel can flex 248 degrees, making it one of the most flexible solar panels on the market. It’s 0.1 inches thick and easily mountable – a perfect option for portable solar generation on boats or recreational vehicles. Additionally, it’s water and snow resistant and comes with a 25-year output warranty.
Shop Renogy now.
WindyNation 100 Watt 12V Flexible Thin Lightweight Monocrystalline Solar Panel
This completely water resistant solar panel is bendable up to 30 degrees and is easily transportable and mountable thanks to its lightweight build. The panel’s junction box includes a blocking diode to regulate battery discharge and draining during the night.
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SunPower 110 Watt Flexible Solar Panel
This flexible solar panel has the highest power output and charging capacity of its class, and it weighs only 4.4 pounds. It can flex 30 degrees and is easily installed with metal grommets found on the back of the panel, or with adhesives. This panel is made with SunPower’s high efficiency monocrystalline cells which are specifically manufactured to protect against power loss from cracking and corrosion.
Shop SunPower now.
TP-solar Flexible Solar Panel 50W 24V/12V Monocrystalline Bendable
This 50-Watt solar panel can be curved to a 30 degree arc for easy mounting on campers, cars, boats, and more. It can also be easily wired to other panels, increasing power output. The TP-solar panel is made of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE, a material that has a high light-transmittance for peak performance). The surface of the panel is also non-stick, making the cleaning process easy.
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Winnewsun Flexible Solar Panel Bifacial Flexible Solar Panel 100W
Winnewsun’s 100W flexible solar panel is unique because it generates power from both sides, and it weighs in at only four pounds. This “bifacial” production shows up in the product’s efficiency rating: it boasts an efficiency of 22 percent, which is much higher than traditional single-sided flexible solar panels. Unfortunately, there are limited options when it comes to installation – in order to gain the full value of the panel, you’ll need to mount it in a way where both sides can absorb sunlight.
Shop Winnewsun now.
Powerfilm Solar 60 Watt Foldable Panel
This highly portable solar panel can be folded up for easy carrying and transportation. It can be used to charge medium to large electronic devices using direct current (DC) electricity and comes with a 12V female car adapter.
What are flexible solar panels?
A standard monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar module is made up of silicon wafers. They’re typically up to 200 micrometers thick – slightly thicker than a human hair. In order to make a flexible solar panel, silicon wafers must be sliced down to just a few micrometers wide. Using these ultra-thin silicon wafers gives solar panels many unique properties, including flexibility for some models.
Flexible solar panels made of ultra-thin silicon cells have been around for a while. More recently, research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has led to advances in organic solar cells. Instead of using silicon as the basis for solar cells, researchers have found a way to use organic materials with electrodes of graphene. Until now, a limiting factor on panel flexibility has been the brittleness of typical electrodes, but due to graphene’s transparent and flexible nature, this method may lead to thinner, more flexible, and more stable solar panels in the future.
Thin film panels: a flexible panel option
The current flexible solar panels available to homeowners on the market fall under the category of “thin film panels.” A thin film solar panel is made with layers that are over 300 times smaller than standard silicon solar panels, which gives them a much thinner profile and can even make them flexible. Flexible thin film panels are lightweight and durable and can be a great option, depending on your solar needs.
To learn more about solar panel manufacturers focusing on flexible products, check out our company reviews on Sunflare and MiaSolé, two companies innovating in the flexible solar space. As these types of companies continue to refine their products, we might start to see more flexible solar technology in the residential and commercial solar markets.
What else will you need with a flexible solar panel?
Some flexible solar panels come as part of a solar panel kit, while others are sold on their own. If you choose a flexible solar panel that isn’t part of a kit, there are a few other components you’ll need to purchase to complete your setup, including:
- Inverters and wiring: you’ll need inverters to convert the DC electricity generated by your flexible solar panels into usable alternating current (AC) electricity – in some cases, they may already come with your solar panel.
- MPPT charge controller: not all solar setups require a charge controller, but they are necessary for off-grid applications that include solar batteries, which is a common setup for flexible solar panels. Charge controllers work by regulating your solar battery so it doesn’t overcharge.
- Permits and documentation: if you’re planning on completing a DIY flexible solar panel installation, you’ll need to ensure you have all of the required permitting and engineering documents.
Pros and cons of flexible vs. traditional solar panels
The biggest advantage of flexible panels is their ability to fit many types of solar projects. For example, if your roof can’t bear the heavy load of traditional solar panels due to structural concerns, lightweight flexible panels like thin-film may be a great solution that won’t compromise your home’s structural integrity. Because flexible panels can be shaped to fit the installation surface, they can be easily installed on less conventional structures like carports. They are also less likely to require bulky racking equipment.
Financially, flexible panels will likely reduce the installation cost of your solar array. Flexible and thin film panels require less labor to install (you may even be able to DIY), and they’re much more portable and easier to handle than typical panels, which can be bulky and heavy and require heavy-duty roof mounting systems.
Pros and cons of flexible solar panels
|Easy to install – can be easily mounted using magnets or adhesives and are often completed as DIY projects||More prone to damage because of their organic solar cells|
|Portable and lightweight – can be used on roofs that aren’t structurally ideal for a regular system||Have a much shorter lifespan|
|Flexible for uneven surfaces or curved surfaces – they can work for many different solar projects||Lower efficiency – you’ll need many more panels (and more space) to produce the same amount of electricity as traditional solar panels|
|Less expensive – they typically take less time and labor to install||Have a shorter or no warranty, meaning your investment isn’t as protected|
Compared to classic solar panels, the most common obstacle for thin film or flexible solar panels is their lower efficiency. Today, the efficiency ratings for average monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels hovers between 16 and 20 percent. Thin film solar panels, on the other hand, typically offer an efficiency of between seven and 15 percent. This lowered efficiency means that you will need more solar panels to produce the same amount of energy, which can be a barrier to some solar projects with limited roof space for installation.
Additionally, flexible solar panels aren’t a good fit for many home rooftop solar projects, because there may not be enough roof space to produce your desired amount of energy. Due to their durability and portability, flexible solar panels are best for small solar projects on surfaces such as RV roofs or boats, where they may experience physical wear and tear that would not occur on a stationary roof. Their durability combined with the reduced weight of flexible panels make them ideal for these smaller, mobile solar projects that don’t need large amounts of energy.
Pros and cons of traditional solar panels
|Longer lifespan – you’ll be able to use your system for much longer and it’s often protected under warranty||Usually have to be professionally installed|
|Typically higher efficiency and wattage rating – your system will produce more electricity||Rigid construction – their applications are limited|
|More durable than flexible panels||Cannot be easily removed – you’ll likely have to leave them behind if you move|
|Will likely have a higher return on investment over time||Significantly higher initial cost|
Should you install flexible solar panels?
The best application for flexible solar panels is when you need a portable solar solution. Products like the Winnewsun Flexible Solar Panel are one way to generate solar power on the go, like on the roof of an RV. Foldable solar panels, like the SUAOKI Solar Charger, can also be a good choice. Like flexible panels, folding solar panels are a great option for camping and hiking trips if you need lightweight and portable power.
All things considered, a flexible solar panel setup is usually best for on-the-go solar power instead of as a permanent home solar solution. When you’re out on the trail, camping, or driving long distances, having a durable, lightweight, and flexible solar panel setup can be a great way to generate free, clean electricity from the sun.
Frequently asked questions about flexible and thin solar panels
Many flexible solar panels weigh about five pounds versus around 40 pounds for rigid panels. Because of their lighter weight and smaller size, flexible solar panels are great for portable needs.
Bending beyond the recommended curve radius and extensive damage can both cause thin-film flexible solar panels to fail. This causes damage to the organic solar cells and multiple fragile layers.
Typically, yes – flexible solar panels are typically about 5 to 10 percent less efficient than their rigid counterparts.
Flexible solar panels are less durable and tend to be more prone to damage than rigid solar panels, so they don’t typically last as long and often aren’t covered under a long warranty.
The Renogy Flexible Monocrystalline Solar Panel is the thinnest solar panel on our list for residential homes with a thickness of 0.08 inches.
Flexible solar cells work by gathering energy from the sun and converting it into usable electricity by the photovoltaic effect, just like rigid solar panels.
Easily find the right solar panel setup for your home
Whether you’re interested in thin-film solar panels or more traditional monocrystalline and polycrystalline modules, it’s important to compare solar quotes from multiple installers to select the best one for your property. On the EnergySage Marketplace, you’ll receive quotes from qualified, pre-vetted installers and be able to compare them side-by-side. Our installers offer many types of high-quality solar installations (including solar-plus-storage systems with lithium batteries) and can work with you to customize your solar solution so you can start generating renewable energy right at home. If you’re interested in a certain type or manufacturer of solar panels, simply leave a note on your property profile so installers can customize your quotes accordingly.